The following letter by United Poultry Concerns President
Karen Davis appears in the March 2003 issue of The Atlantic
Monthly. It is a response to columnist Christopher Hitchens’s
November 2002 review (“Political Animals”) of Matthew
Scully’s book Dominion: The Power of Man, the
Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy.
Letters section of the March issue of The Atlantic Monthly,
under Animal Rights, are letters by Karen Davis, Steve Best (Chair,
Dept. of Philosophy, University of Texas at El Paso), Sidney Gendin
(Professor Emeritus, Philosophy, Eastern Michigan University), Roberta
Kalechofsky (President, Jews for Animal Rights), and Frankie Trull
(President, Foundation for Biomedical Research).
To the Editor:
Thank you for Christopher Hitchens’s critical review of Matthew
Scully’s book Dominion: the Power of Man, the Suffering
of Animals, and the Call to Mercy. I would like to respond
to a couple of things Hitchens says about social justice responses
to animals and animal rights.
Hitchens invokes the English utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham
to support his claim that talk about animals’ rights is “nonsense
upon stilts” because rights “have to be asserted,”
and animals “cannot make such assertions.” However,
we make representations all the time on behalf of people who cannot
speak for themselves due to infancy, debility, or senility, and
Bentham himself said that nonhuman animals possess rights that have
been withheld from them by human tyranny. He was talking about moral
claims of fellowship that transcend the ability to articulate a
plea for fairness in polished verbal language and which are yet
a basis for legal rights. Indeed, we hire lawyers and members of
the clergy to assert claims that exist in us as sentiments of justice
and injustice that, if pleaded by ourselves on our own behalf, without
intercession, might to a judge’s ear (or the ear of God) sound
like nothing more than “bleats and roars and trumpetings”—a
lot of unambiguous protest, in fact.
I think it’s time for our species to step down from the “chilly
eminence” that Hitchens ascribes to the animal advocacy philosopher
Peter Singer and give to these animals, who are neither “voiceless”
nor “dumb,” a voice in every affair that concerns them.
If we can speak for people who can’t speak for themselves,
we can speak for these animals, and so we should.
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that promotes
the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl. For
more information, visit www.UPC-online.org.